I Only Have Myself to Blame

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Having Michael back in the house is strange and confusing and horrible, but completely necessary.

He’s quieter than when he left, subdued and unwilling to talk. Luke’s almost desperate to start conversations, which is a first. Michael walks around like a grim reaper, dressed all in black and eyes always transparent and empty. He talks as if he’s hardly there, if he talks at all. He says not a word about Perth, nothing about why he left to the other boys or what happened while he was gone. He doesn’t say anything hurtful to Luke. He doesn’t say anything at all.

Luke finds himself squirming, dying to talk to him, wanting to ask a million questions, wanting to sneak into Michael’s room at night when he gets lonely, but there’s a wall between them, constructed by Michael, and since they hugged at the airport Michael won’t touch him won’t talk to him won’t look at him won’t breathe his name and Luke’s wilting.

During gigs, Michael plays what he has to, goes through the motions but doesn’t quite ever get into the swing of it, emotionless features painted by a distracted hand, his eyelids drooping. It’s better than Michael being gone entirely, but he’s only with them right now physically anyway. His mind, although Luke remains the only one who knows, stays with his mother.

Luke doesn’t know what he should have expected from an already unstable teenage boy whose mother died a week ago. It’s not fair to be upset he won’t pay more attention to Luke, because Luke takes lower priority to his mother, obviously.

It’s not even about paying attention to Luke, really. It’s more that nobody knows what to do with Michael. He doesn’t sleep, eat, or speak--so no wonder he looks downright terrible. But the Michael Luke’s used to would at least try and play off his vulnerability. There’s something terrifying in him now, like he’s fading into nothingness.

He wears the same oversized black sweaters and worn black skinny jeans, his eyes are pale and tired, his hair is a dying white, and his face is constantly drained of color. His face is narrower than when he left, his jaw more pronounced in an unhealthy looking way. All the color is suddenly leached from his life.

Luke doesn’t know exactly what snapped, and he doesn’t know what headspace Michael was in when he left Luke crying on the swings, but he does know that the Michael who left Sydney a week ago is nothing but a ghost now.

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It’s a nightly routine, or at least it becomes one. Michael shuts himself up in his room and Luke sits alone in his, ears straining for a sound from Michael’s. He’s never felt so desperate before, needing to hear a sign, praying to hear one. Luke’s accustomed to (and content with) people approaching him first, and although his anxiety prevents him from wandering down the hall and into Michael’s room, he so badly wants to. What else is he supposed to do on nights when the wind is too loud and the shadows are too grotesque and he can’t sleep without an arm around him?

He could go to Ashton, could go to Calum, but he’s used to Michael now, used to feeling Michael’s broader chest up against his back and Michael’s lightly muscled arm pulled over him during moments they wouldn’t admit to any of the boys. He’s used to the morning escapes, too, sneaking out of Michael’s room before the other boys notice. Now there’s just a cold silence echoing in his ears every night as he hides under the covers.

And it’s not like Luke to actively seek someone out, unless it’s for secret nighttime cuddles, but then again, when he sees Michael cross the hallway with hair supplies in hand while he sits in the living room one night, he has to seize the opportunity. The bathroom door is wide open.

At first he’s tentative, standing in the doorway, Michael looking up in surprise. Michael’s not sure he wants company tonight, he just needs a change of scenery, but when he sees Luke’s face, he can’t say a single word.

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